When to Know You Have Redeemed Yourself

I work at the local grocery store, and one time, I was facing the shelves in Aisle 15. While I was minding my own business and organizing items, a customer approached me and kindly asked where the prunes were. Prunes, I thought, were located in the produce section—they’re a fruit after all. It turned out that at my store, prunes are only sold in the form of a can, and that they were actually located in Aisle 9, the baking aisle. Of course, I erroneously instructed the customer to search for them in the produce department, but to my dismay, the hostess was working next to me and therefore overheard my misleading feedback.

In case you’re wondering, the hostess’s job is direct customers to the items that they cannot find, so you can probably imagine how frustrated she was with this pathetic cashier’s uninformed, uneducated guidance on the whereabouts of prunes. She corrected my mistake by ushering the customer to Aisle 9, and then returned to Aisle 15 to scold me.

“These people pay our salaries,” the hostess angrily exclaimed. “If you constantly direct them to the wrong locations, they’ll get fed up and WE’LL lose business.”

Little did she realize that at the end of the day, I am just a cashier and thus not expected by my managers to know the locations of every conceivable item in the store. But I’m a man of principle in that when I’m asked a question—any question—I try to give the best answer possible to it, regardless if I’m right or wrong. That was how I was taught. I protested to the hostess that if I relinquish my competence by constantly relying on others to answer questions that were originally asked TO me, then I’ll be perceived as weak. When she continued to poke that bee hive, I naturally reacted with agitation.

“Okay, SORRY” I said with a snide tone, turning my head away and continuing to organize the items. For the next ten seconds, neither of us would say a thing. The hostess, dumbfounded by my defiance, asked what my name was in order to report me to a manager, but before she could leave the aisle, I promptly apologized to her. “I apologize for my tone-of-voice. I’ve had a long day and took my frustration out on you. I didn’t mean to.”

That was over a year ago, but I’ve routinely thought about the ways in which I could’ve better handled the encounter. Perhaps I should’ve set aside my pride, and allowed the hostess to answer the customer’s question all along. Maybe I should’ve been a little sterner when she scolded me, or maybe I should’ve just known where the damned prunes were.

Interestingly, five days ago, I’m working the register and a different customer approaches me to ask about where to find the prunes. “Aisle 9,” I told him.

I told this story because it is a glimpse into what self-redemption could look like. We’ve all made thousands of mistakes that we wish we could take back. Due to the nature of time and how it works, we can’t undo or rescind them, but we can register and put them to work.

Let’s say, for example, that I was never approached by that fateful customer. Big deal. I could’ve done my job in peace and circumvented an uncomfortable conversation with a pesky coworker. Five days ago, however, the outcome would’ve been the same as the incident that occurred over a year ago, but with one key difference: I would’ve erroneously directed the customer to the produce department, and never learned about the location of prunes, thereby setting myself up to repeat the same mistake as before.

In a world outside a grocery store, we might fail at relationships, fail at new jobs, and fail exams, but that doesn’t always mean that we’ve failed as people. Through applying this knowledge to navigating interpersonal relationships, learning a novel career position, and taking an important exam, we begin to realize that each of our mistakes, lamentable as they may be, are stepping stones toward achieving a more favorable outcome the next time an opportunity presents itself. That is the precise definition of self-redemption, because to achieve it, you must endure profound failures and hardships but take away from them the wisdom to know that you’ve done a poor job, and that you hope to do better the next time.

Now go and find those prunes.

Video: Why We Are Already Living in the Apocalypse: A Walking Dead Video Essay – Part 4 (Community)

Here is Part 4 of my 5 part Walking Dead video essay. Stick around for Part 5!

Should We Remove Confederate Statues?

“When you remove history, you set yourself up to repeat it.”

– Lawrence Jones III

You’ve probably heard of a book entitled Fahrenheit 451 (1951) by Ray Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451 follows the story of Guy Montag, a fireman whose job is to burn books with disagreeable and contentious ideas. Initially, Montag takes a sadistic pleasure in torching time-honored pieces of literature and the homes of their owners, but as the story progresses, he experiences a change-of-heart and realizes that he’s been living a lie all along. This unforeseen existential crisis is characterized by Montag’s migration to an underground, secret society where all ideas are free and open to exchange, and the story ends with the atomic annihilation of Montag’s old society and an enterprise to usher in a new age of intellectual tradition.

Bradbury’s classic dystopian novel has been speculated to comment on excessive and unjust censorship in the media. When I was instructed to read it, I couldn’t care less about the premise. “Are you kidding me?” I thought to myself. “Firemen supposedly go around, and burn books because they don’t agree with the ideas they present? That’s absurd! That will never happen in my lifetime.”

But that’s exactly what’s happening to America in 2017. In the past week, multiple Confederate statues have been forcefully taken down and vandalized across the country. News headlines consist of “Philadelphia considers removing statue,” “Chicago Bishop Wants George Washington’s Name Taken Off Park in Black Neighborhood,” and “Confederate monument in Arizona tarred, feathered.” Another article asks about what will happen if America’s children lose our history.

I can’t believe that this is a discussion that we should even be having about political correctness. These statues have been up for 200 years, but all of a sudden, people are opting to take them down because they’re offensive. What’s my stance on the removal of these monuments?

On April 12th, 2017, I posted an article inquiring about the legality of flag burning, concluding that the act of incinerating the American flag is extremely depraved and thus should be outlawed. One-time offenders should incur a small fine, while repeated offenders should face jail time and a complete revoke of citizenship.

I have since reversed my position on flag burning because no matter how upset or disgusted that it makes me, it is nonetheless an exercise of free speech—outlawing it would practically equate to promoting censorship of any kind. Moreover, it would be quite hypocritical of me to say that we should outlaw flag burning but reject the removal of Confederate statues, because they’re two sides of the same coin. In other words, we can’t change the past in the same way that we can’t change the Constitution. Simply because they make us feel “uncomfortable,” we can’t shut them out of our lives and pretend like they don’t exist anymore.

So apparently, it’s okay to burn flags because it is an expression of free speech, but it’s not okay to display a Confederate statue in a state park because it’s a symbol of “bigotry and racism.” Are you noticing the flawed logic yet? Besides, if we’ve begun to normalize the removal and vandalism of historical statues, how long will it take until we literally remove entire passages in history textbooks that inform of Confederate generals and practices of slavery? Or worse, burn history textbooks altogether? What will TRULY separate our reality from the dystopian reality of Fahrenheit 451?

If we don’t want our children to learn about the horrible atrocities that our ancestors have committed, then we need to express to them that ignoring history won’t undo said atrocities. We need to get them to understand that the Confederate statues we’re taking down are not symbols of bigotry and racism, but symbols of what we WILL become if we regress to a state in which bigotry and racism are once again acceptable—symbols of a dark past and an even darker future if we repeat the same mistakes.

The issue, it seems, is as clear as day: continue to delete and rewrite history to push a politically correct agenda, and open the door up to the very things that you’ve already denounced. It’s sad that half of the country doesn’t see it that way.

Who is to Blame for the Violence in Charlottesville?

On Saturday, August 12th, 2017, a rally called “Unite the Right” took place in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was there white nationalists congregated to protest the removal of a Confederate statue. Counterprotesters soon arrived to harass the rally participants, with the situation escalating into chaotic exchanges of violence. One person, Heather D. Heyer, 35, died when a car rammed through a group of counterprotesters, and another two state troopers died in a freak helicopter crash.

The conflict that erupted in Charlottesville was not self-contained, but the result of an accumulation of lingering resentments that resurfaced, either from the 2016 presidential election or from the current political climate that we live in. It is an extension of one of the worst ideological rifts in our country’s history, and another clear demonstration of two opposing groups’ inability to sort through their differences rationally.

It should not be understated that both radical conservatives and progressive liberals are at fault here, as President Trump was quoted with saying on Tuesday that “I think there’s blame on both sides.” Trump subsequently received scrutiny for not specifically condemning the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists. Nonetheless, the counterprotesters (i.e.: Black Lives Matter & ANTIFA) are just as guilty of inciting violence and causing discord as they were. That’s not to say that I agree with what the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists stand for—their values are acutely incompatible with everything I believe in. However, at Charlottesville, there were no white knights.

Police officers, too, have received scrutiny for not “keeping the peace.” At the same time, whether you’re on the right or left, a police officer or just a regular citizen, these days it is virtually impossible for you to understand another person’s point-of-view (and even sympathize with it) because “he or she is not on your side.” And it’s this attitude of taking sides that’s spiraling what are supposed to be peaceful protests completely out of control.

Turn the clocks back to March 11, 2016, when the Trump campaign cancelled a rally at the University of Illinois in Chicago because of increasing safety concerns. Footage shows Bernie Sanders supporters disrupting the event by shoving, harassing, and shouting at Trump supporters. You did not see this kind of animosity during the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, and even post-2016 presidential election, tensions between the right and left continue to soar, with Charlottesville illustrating that uncomfortable reality.

Generally speaking, people should discuss their opinions rather than attack them. In the case of Charlottesville, it would have saved three lives, and in the case of the University of Illinois, voters would have been able to see their preferred candidate in person without any disturbances. This behavior should of course not be solely encouraged of protesters and counterprotesters, but of all Trump supporters and former Clinton supporters alike, Democrats and Republicans, males and females, and people. No matter your beliefs, age, gender, or skin color, the best way to diffuse any conflict is through simply talking about it first. And even if you find yourself in disagreement with someone else, what exactly do you think that throwing punches and shouting obscenities are going to accomplish?

Obviously the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists should be vehemently condemned by anyone with a modicum of common decency, but the fact remains that violence will always be unproductive, no matter who it comes from.

Conflict resolution is a skill. Let’s all start practicing it before the next civil war breaks out.

Are We Living in the Golden Age of Television?

Are we in the midst of an era when television is in its prime? Can it soar higher than it is now, or is it as good as it’s ever going to be? These are two questions that circulated through my mind after finishing the critically acclaimed first season of HBO’s Westworld (2016), a television show based on the 1973 movie of the same name. Westworld is about a fictional, western-themed amusement park where attendees (or “guests”) pay large sums of money to fulfill their darkest desires. In essence, the guests are permitted to murder or have sexual intercourse with the park’s “hosts,” human-like androids that occupy the park, while the “programmers” write the scripts for the hosts and control all of their behaviors.

Westworld is renowned for its thought-provoking examination of the relationship that mankind has with its own technology, and of key themes that include fate, free will, life, death, God, reincarnation, and the nature of human consciousness. I could spend hours—literally days—talking about these things, but keeping within the scope of this article, I will save that for another time.

I didn’t think Westworld could live up to the standards I’ve set for other shows that I hold such a high opinion of, but Season 1, Episode 10 (“The Bicameral Mind”) proved me wrong. In this 95 minute finale, the writers managed to deliver an unbelievably satisfying payoff to the preceding 9 hours I spent with the show, addressing almost every single inquiry into the world, characters, and narrative direction. Even better, almost every scene had its own “Shyamalanism,” a term I coined that describes how the revelation of a plot twist incentivizes an audience to re-watch a television show or movie to spot out the Easter eggs they didn’t notice the first time around. I won’t spoil anything here, but let’s just say that much like M. Night Shyamalan’s best movies, there are certain story bits in Westworld that you would easily overlook upon first watch, but would blow your mind upon a second or third watch. That is the mark of brilliant storytelling, because to truly deliver a satisfying payoff to any great piece of media, you have to display things in plain sight and subvert attention from them until they become relevant to the twists that you want to reveal.

I bring up Westworld because it’s one television show out of the dozens of high-grade shows that have come out in the past two decades. Between 1999 and today, we’ve gotten amazing shows such as The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Dexter, Prison Break, The Walking Dead, Black Mirror, Orange is the New Black, Narcos, Sherlock, Stranger Things, and my personal all-time favorite, Breaking Bad, which I consider to be the Mona Lisa of Television for its complex layered writing and exemplary character development. Let’s not forget the spin-off to Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, another show commonly considered to be golden entertainment.

So are we living in a golden age of television? As a matter of fact, we are. Don’t believe me? There is already a Wikipedia article aptly titled “Golden Age of Television (2000s–present).” Apparently, there was a golden age of T.V. in the 1950s as well, but the 2000s golden age is being dubbed the “New,” “Second,” or “Third Golden Age of Television” because of transformations in the way that we consume media. In addition, the critically acclaimed aforementioned shows have (each in their own right) changed the language of episodic filmography, effectively revolutionizing how stories are told on the small screen. After all, television is a language, and every good show has helped us see it as one.

But if film is a language and every language evolves with time, then what has modern television done to evolve the way in which it is being communicated? There is a long list of examples, but here is a condensed version: Breaking Bad was the first show to take a seemingly innocent and virtuous character, and transform him into a cold, calculating, and ruthless one. Dexter was the first show to make its audience root for, and empathize with, a serial killer. The Walking Dead was the first show to combine realistic human dramas with a zombie apocalypse. Game of Thrones was the first show to depict adult themes in a fantasy setting and regularly kill its lead characters. Stranger Things was the first show to successfully emulate ‘80s media. And finally, Orange is the New Black was the first show to make its side characters more interesting than the main character.

It might seem overly reductive to say that these shows were the “first of their kind,” and while that is true to a certain extent, they were unarguably the first of their kind in the modern era of television. That’s why we’re living in the New Golden Age of Television.

However, golden ages by definition don’t last forever, so when will we see television start to drop in overall quality? It’s hard to say, as it could be in another 10, 20, 40, or even 100 years. Nobody knows for certain, but what is certain is that if our beloved T.V. shows can continue raising the bar, they’ll never get boring.

Angry Joe Versus His Audience: A Response

Angry Joe is a YouTube content creator who has amassed over 2.8 million subscribers. He is best known for his Angry Reviews: 30 to 40 minute long video game reviews of high production value consisting of skits, special effects, angry rants, and in-depth critical analyses. Joe gained popularity from his propensity to call game developers out on their greed and hypocrisy, especially with respect to overpriced DLC and microtransactions.

Recently, Angry Joe announced that he would suspend production on Angry Reviews until at least September so that he could take a much needed 2 month long vacation. This resulted in a massive backlash that would be marked by persistent hatred and criticism and a net reduction in Joe’s subscriber count. Fans of the esteemed game reviewer were notably and understandably upset, complaining that Joe was already on vacation and didn’t need to take any more time off. Joe responded by disabling comments and ratings on subsequent videos, and ranting on Twitter about how he has been producing quality free content for the past 9 years and has thus earned himself a break.

I’m ashamed to admit this, but I, too, was a part of the criticism that beset Joe’s vacation announcement. I wrote a comment saying that we fans need to band together and dislike every piece of content that isn’t an Angry Review to send the message that Joe’s behavior isn’t acceptable. It received up to 55 likes, and shortly afterward, Joe in fact disabled comments and ratings on his Game of Thrones review.

Joe then addressed the censorship of his fan base on the 27th, reasoning that he wanted to prevent the more negative side of his community needlessly attacking fans of his Let’s Plays, trailer reactions, and movie reviews in the comment sections. Joe also illustrated that the current content drought isn’t anything new to his channel—there simply aren’t any games right now that he is interested in reviewing, so he took time off until the triple A titles come out.

As upset that I am with Joe for turning a blind eye on his own audience and leaving it in the dust, I can’t help but feel sorry for him. I forgot about the emotional toll that the Internet can take on someone, and overlooked just how much work goes into a single video game review of Joe’s caliber. To put things into perspective, my Halo 5: Guardians review was 32 minutes long, but it took over THREE months to produce with the constant interference from work, school, and other responsibilities. That’s about 100 hours in real time to create a half hour YouTube video, but because this is the Internet—the cesspool of ignorance and entitlement—people somehow think that a 30 minute review equates to 30 minutes of work, which isn’t true. The argument that “Joe doesn’t have a real job” is therefore invalid.

I hope Joe takes as much time as he needs to recuperate both mentally and emotionally from this debacle, but I also expect him to come back with some kickass reviews in the fall. Until then, I’ll see you guys on the next… Angry Joe Show!

Destiny 2 – Beta (First Impressions)

The Destiny 2 Beta has concluded as of July 25th. I’ve invested about 15 hours into testing all three character classes, The Crucible, the story mode, and the strike. Here, I am going to discuss what worked for me, what didn’t work, and what needs to change for launch day. I believe that this longer article will sum up all of the criticisms that have thus far accumulated.

Initially, I was not impressed with Destiny 2. The guns felt weak, abilities took too long to recharge, and the 30 FPS was a massive step down from the 60 FPS that I’ve become accustomed to. What’s worse is that The Crucible felt like a blanketed downgrade from everything that made the first Destiny’s Crucible experience so much fun. For the purposes of this article, however, I am going to attempt to keep my complaints as levelheaded as possible.

DISCLAIMER: I understand that this was a Beta and therefore not representative of the complete experience. All of my criticisms are liable to be, or have been, addressed.

The Story Mode

The story mode was decent. It was grandiose and a return-to-form for Bungie’s exceptional approach to storytelling in First Person Shooters. I’m happy that NPCs are actually DOING THINGS now and not simply spouting exposition at us through a radio. One complaint I have (the same complaint I have with The Taken King’s story mode) is that the game thrusts you into this large-scale conflict without any meaningful setup. It would be nice to see a calm-before-the-storm cinematic that precedes Gaul’s assault on The Last City, similar to the award ceremony in the beginning of Halo 2. Another complaint I have is that, yet again, our characters have zero personality and do not utter a single word.

At any rate, if Bungie can maintain the level of quality that they delivered in the first mission throughout the rest of the campaign, then I will be very pleased.

The Strike

The Inverted Spire strike is pretty much what you would expect from any strike in Destiny: plow through hordes of enemies until you reach a bullet sponge of a boss. Interestingly, my team and I died 5 times on the boss fight, and thus I commend Bungie for actually challenging the player and not making the mission so exploitable. I can’t imagine what this would be like on Nightfall difficulty.

Overall, I was not very impressed with the strike, but it is good time-killer in the event that you want to sit back, relax, and shoot mindless aliens for 20 or so minutes.

The Gameplay

Now I can talk about the nitty gritty—the REAL meat of my criticism: the gameplay and The Crucible. First off, I know I’m beating a dead horse when I say this, but abilities charge way too slowly. This includes the Super ability, grenades, and supplementary character abilities. As my disclaimer noted, this has probably already been fixed, but I’d like to talk about it nonetheless.

To put things into perspective, in a typical strike, you will only get to use your Super twice, and no more than three times. And The Crucible? Forget it. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll only get your Super in the last 2 minutes of the match (when EVERYONE ELSE uses it). That is ABSOLUTELY pathetic for a game whose majority of fun derives from utilizing unique abilities that alter the dynamic and flow of its combat. Destiny 1 was special because I got to live out my childlike power fantasy by wielding the Light of the Traveler and vaporizing my opponents into thin air. I still get to do that, but those moments of empowerment are few and far between, and ultimately take a lot of enjoyment out of the equation.

Also, who in their right mind at Bungie Studios thought it would be a good idea to nerf melee damage THIS drastically? In The Crucible, it takes up to THREE punches to defeat your opponent. That desperately needs to be changed, because dumping several rounds into somebody but then having to stab them two times severely disrupts the fluidity of closer-ranged encounters and leaves you more vulnerable to team shots.

Gunplay is as always, smooth and solid. Say what you want about Bungie as a developer, but they understand shooting mechanics. In fact, much of what keeps people coming back to this game after all these years is just how good it feels to shoot things. But remember when I said that the guns felt weak? I meant it. Unfortunately, the primaries that we were given in the Beta often felt like peashooters, while the sniper rifle felt like a slightly stronger scout rifle. Again, this is subject to change, but right now, guns are underpowered.

Finally, the transition from a PRIMARY/SECONDARY/HEAVY loadout to a PRIMARY/PRIMARY/SECONDARY loadout really hurts the PvE experience. While I can understand this design choice for PvP to a certain extent, in PvE, it’s insipid having to switch between two mediocrely powered auto rifles and rarely getting to use a sniper, rocket launcher, or shotgun because power ammo is so scarce. I sure will miss my Fatebringer/Blackhammer/Gjallerhorn combination. Can we please go back to the way things were in this regard? Of course, it is more balanced as it is now, but sometimes, balance is boring.

The Crucible

So how is The Crucible? In short, watered down.

I thought I was going to despise the 4v4 format, but it’s not as bad as I expected. The maps are specifically scaled down to accommodate 8 players instead of 12, and so you’ll encounter your opponents about as frequently as you would on a map that’s been built for 6v6. Despite this, I prefer the classic 6v6 format because in 4v4, there are fewer opponents to engage with and thus fewer opportunities for extremely satisfying multi-kills. Why is it that Bungie can’t just do what they did with their Halo games and design some maps and modes for 6v6, and others for 4v4? Blanketing 4v4 across ALL maps and modes is a colossal step backwards because not everyone is going to prefer these smaller-scale, less chaotic matches. Personally, I want to see Combined Arms and Rumble make a return.

I love and hate the new scoring system in Control. I love it because it’s been simplified in such a way that I understand how points are distributed between both teams (in Destiny 1, it was convoluted and made no sense). I hate it because it needlessly rewards assists. If I kill somebody, I want it to MATTER. In other words, I want to feel like I deserved it. However, in Destiny 2, if you so much as scrape an opponent and one of your teammates deals let’s say 90 percent of the damage, you’ll be allotted a full point (i.e.: +1 point). Alternatively, if you deal 100 percent of the damage, you’ll be allotted two points (i.e.: +2 points). With that said, it appears that the only indicator of individual performance is Efficiency, which is a special number on the scoreboard that aggregates your kill/death/assist ratio, level of accuracy, and other factors. However, I want the scoreboard to display the number of times you acquired FULL kills relative to the number of times you died. Currently, the game has either eliminated or minimized these statistics in favor of giving everyone on the team a participation medal.

By the way, I hope to God that we are not solely relegated to Quickplay and Competitive in the final game. THIS IS NOT OVERWATCH. Destiny 2 is expected to promote diversity and versatility by featuring multiple playlists that cater to different preferences and different play styles. It should NOT be this restrictive and barebones.

A couple more suggestions that I would like to offer are to increase the score limit in Control from 75 to 100, and to increase the rate at which players’ health bars regenerate to both deter and prevent incidences of team shooting. It is very frustrating when, upon legitimately outplaying your opponent, someone else comes from around the corner to “clean you up” because you couldn’t recover in time. As for Control, the score limit is a little too condensed for my liking. Bumping it up to 100 should make matches last for just the right amount of time.

Skill Based Match Making is ever so prominent in Destiny 2, and just like in Destiny 1, I am routinely punished for performing well. Whenever I have one great match or a string of great matches, I am pitted against full teams of 4 and get utterly decimated. Why should I be forced to play my heart out every single match against players who are just as good if not better than me? I said it before and I’ll say it again: Bungie needs to either abolish or restrict SBMM to COMPETITIVE-ONLY playlists so that The Crucible can remain a lighthearted, laidback experience. Not every game on the market needs to be an eSport.

Fellow Destiny player Tibbaryllis2 puts it perfectly, “The game is infinitely better when you go through a cycle of games where you have some close matches, you stomp some people, and you get stomped by some people. You need all three; one helps you get better, one helps you have fun, and one keeps you humble.”

Final Word

Believe it or not, I criticize Destiny this harshly because I love it and want it to succeed. It’s the only game that keeps me coming back to it on a consistent basis, and I’ll be damned if it sacrifices its identity to become another generic, bland, dull, and dry shooter game.

So far, Destiny 2 is not a game plagued by poor design, but rather by poor design decisions. It seems that Bungie’s best answer to the complaints players directed toward Destiny 1’s PvP experience is to literally nerf everything that made it fun in the first place, and achieve a more leveled playing field in a panicked attempt to please its entire player base. In doing so, they punished the PvE-centric audience.

I hope that come September, my opinion on the game improves and does not worsen. In either case, I’ll be here to call it out.